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Chapter 32 – Alice

Hello Beautiful

ovember 2008

The cheapest FlıGht to chıcaGo left at six a.m., so Rhoan borrowed his brother’s car early that morning, and he and Carrie

drove Alice to the airport. She knew that if they hadn’t, she wouldn’t have made her way there on her own. She felt strange and heavy-limbed, after two weeks without speaking to her mother, knowing that she had a father. She needed her friends’ hands on her back. Carrie had offered to travel to Chicago with her, but Alice knew she had to do this by herself.

She wouldn’t let them hug her goodbye. “I’ll be back tomorrow,” she said.

“You can always change your ticket and stay longer,” Carrie said. “I want you to go there and show those people what they’ve been

missing,” Rhoan said. “They’re your family. Don’t be afraid to tell them off if necessary. But don’t be afraid to smile either.”

Alice walked through the airport, wearing her gray backpack. She followed the instructions of the flight attendants while boarding the plane and closed her eyes for the duration of the flight. She couldn’t bear for anyone to speak to her, even to offer a beverage. Alice squeezed the armrests and was aware of every bounce of the plane, every small disruption of the air and space she occupied.

At O’Hare, a giant, labyrinthine airport with cathedral-like glass ceilings, Alice waited in the taxi queue and then gave the driver the address for the Bulls practice facility in downtown Chicago. She tried

to pay attention to the city as the car crossed the river and entered a thicket of tall buildings. Elevated trains rattled above the car. There didn’t seem to be as many people on the sidewalks as in New York. She’d hoped to see murals, maybe even Cecelia’s, but in this part of the city, the walls were blank.

Alice thought, This is where my mother grew up. This is where I’ll meet my father. She felt alone almost as a physical sensation: Her skin tingled as if she hadn’t been touched in days. She found that she could barely remember the sound of her mother’s voice, and this panicked her. Being here made Alice feel like she’d left Julia behind in some way that was important and permanent. She texted her mother for the first time since the night in the Greek restaurant: A shadow represents either the blocking out of light or the other half of a person. When a character loses their shadow, theyve lost a part of themselves and have to search to get it back.

The taxi came to a stop. Alice paid and climbed out of the car. She knew she couldn’t stand still or allow herself to think. She pulled open the glass door in front of her and walked into a large foyer. She could hear the thumping of basketballs in the distance, and there were a few extremely tall men sitting on couches in the corner, their knees raised high. An older man with a whistle around his neck walked past her, and he was close to seven feet tall. Alice had a strange realization that she was in a place where people wouldn’t find her height of any interest; this building was populated with giants.

She walked up to the desk. A young man looked up from his computer. He blinked at her and then said, “How can I…” He paused. “Ma’am, you look just like one of our physios.”

“William Waters?” Alice said. He nodded. “It’s uncanny.” “Can I see him, please?”

“I don’t think he’s come in yet. He should be here any minute, though. Do you want to take a seat and wait?”

She nodded and walked across the foyer to where the couches were. She realized, as she sat down, that the furniture was unusually high off the ground, built for oversized humans. Alice tried her best to appear calm and relaxed and not to look startled every time the front door opened, which was often. After fifteen minutes, she texted Carrie: How long do I wait?

The reply came: A long time.

After thirty minutes, the young man from the front desk walked over and said, “I’m sorry this is taking so long. William’s usually right on time. I left a message on his cellphone, letting him know you were here. I’m sure he’ll arrive soon.”

Alice nodded her thanks and wondered, while he walked away, how he’d described her in the voicemail. Had he said, A tall woman who looks like you is here? Or, The daughter you never wanted has shown up?

An hour passed, and her stomach grumbled. It was almost lunchtime, and she’d woken up well before dawn, too nervous to eat. She saw the pitying looks the people who worked there were giving her. She thought, I’m an idiot. He clearly knows I’m here and isn’t coming for that reason. They all feel bad for me.

She texted Carrie: In ten minutes, Im leaving.

Her friend wrote right back. You can leave that building, but youre not leaving Chicago. You committed to twenty-four hours there. Your ticket is for tomorrow. Call one of your aunts. See someone.

Alice considered this. She wanted, more than anything, to go

back to the airport. Back to her safe, comfortable life. She had done the brave thing by coming here, and it hadn’t worked out. But what Carrie had said about Alice sealing herself off after losing her father at the age of five had rung true. She had been wrapped up in her mother’s hair; she’d imbibed her mother’s control with her morning glass of orange juice as a child. She was twenty-five years old, and she had never been in love, never had sex. She’d been kissed once, by a drunken boy at a college party, but she had never kissed. She

liked her safe life, but she could see how she might need to open some windows, if only to show herself that she could.

“I’m sorry, miss.” The young man was in front of her again. “I tried to contact his colleague Kent too, because William is often with him, but his phone also went to voicemail. I hate to see you wait here. How about you give me your cell number and then go about your day? I can contact you when William turns up.”

Alice wrote her cellphone number on the pad of paper the man handed her and thanked him. She walked out of the building with her head high, as if she weren’t embarrassed, as if she knew what she was going to do next. It turned out that she did, once she was in the clear air of the sidewalk. She would call her aunt Cecelia, whose artwork wallpapered her bedroom and her dreams. Alice had her number—all the phone numbers, actually—from Rhoan’s research.

While she listened to the phone ring, she thought, If no one answers, I get to go back to the airport. When a female voice said, “Hello?” Alice’s heart sank.

“Is this Cecelia Padavano?” she said.

“No—this is Izzy. Are you calling from the hospital? Can I take a message? I’m her daughter.”

“What?” Alice said. “No, I’m not calling from a hospital. I…uh…my name is Alice. Padavano. I think you’re my cousin?”

A silence took over then, on both ends of the phone line. Alice sank into the quiet as if into the deep end of a pool, having no idea when or if she would reach the bottom. “Sweet Jesus,” Izzy said finally. “Alice! Where are you? Are you in Chicago?”

Alice nodded, and then realized she had to speak. “Yes.” “Come here right now,” Izzy said. “We need you. Come home.”

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